February 3, 2013

Old growth forest, numerous waterfalls greet hikers along the Clackamas River Trail

Deeply furrowed, old growth fir along the Clackamas River Trail

The promise of blue skies and warmer temperatures prompted another trip into the old Cascades. As I discovered, the break in the rain had the same influence on a lot of other people. Cars and pickups, carrying kayaks and sometimes pulling trailers full of snowmobiles and quads, made their way up the Clackamas River drainage.

Stream crossing near trailhead at Indian Henry Campground
While driving along the river several miles above Estacada, I was reminded of my teenage years, when I had purchased a rubber raft and spent summer days floating the upper stretches of the river with my father or other family members. There were days back then, even in the summer, when my raft would be the only boat on that stretch of river. Since then, the river’s popularity has grown immensely among rafters and kayakers.
Rock overhang along the trail
This day’s destination was the Clackamas River Trail. Having hiked the downstream half of the trail several years earlier, I figured it was time to hike the upper half. I parked at a parking lot for the trail, located across from the entrance to Indian Henry Campground, and started up the trail.
Pair of falls along trail
At the trailhead, two trails are apparent. The trail to the left, which heads uphill immediately, is NOT the Clackamas River Trail. I don’t know where it leads. The trail to the right, the more level trail, is the correct route.
One of the trail's numerous waterfalls
Immediately, the characteristics of a low level trail in the Cascades become apparent. Moss covers nearly everything on the forest floor like a green shag carpet. Ferns grow profusely. Firs at various stages of growth make up much of the forest. In this case, however, along this trail, the trees are a bit bigger than the usual low elevation Cascade trail. Immense, deeply furrowed, old growth trees stand high above these slopes.
Moss covered rock wall above the Clackamas River Trail
The trail gradually rises a few hundred feet above the Clackamas River and remains there for much of the hike into The Narrows, a short stretch where the river runs narrowly between bulbous, fused rock.
Spring along the trail
In a mile or so, the trail skirts what I found to be the most interesting portion of the trail, the lower portion of a rock wall stretching several hundred yards. Not carrying my tape measure with me, I can’t be sure, but the height of this wall likely varies from 60 to over 100 feet high. Along this wall were, at the beginning of February, several waterfalls of varying sizes. I say “were” because some of them had so little water I doubt they could possibly exist in August.
Another of the many waterfalls
Interestingly, the falls that attracted most of my attention were those with the least amount of water. A few of these looked as if someone had taken a 20 foot length of PVC pipe, drilled a hole in it every four or six inches and ran water through it high up on the rock wall’s rim. These streams of water, separated by only a few inches, ran down the wall, dropping through and into thick moss, where they eventually came to rest at the base of the trail.
Small streams drop down the moss-covered rock wall
Along another short stretch, the trail dips into the wall’s face, carrying hikers behind one of the falls carrying the most volume of water. It is similar to hiking behind South Falls in the Silver Creek Falls area, but on a smaller scale.

From behind a waterfall, looking down at the Clackamas River
Eventually the rock wall gives way to steep, fern laden slope. Always within view is one or more of the huge trees likely at least 500 years old.
Trail in cliff wall behind waterfall
As the trail drops close to river level, it meanders along a power line clearing for a couple of short stretches before dipping back into old growth forest. Soon, old growth western red cedar trees become more prevalent. Within a grove of these huge cedars, a short side trail leads to the Clackamas River and The Narrows.
Clackamas River runs below the trail
The morning sun blanketed the grassy flat atop the rocks containing the Clackamas River at The Narrows. The river, running high, flowed through the tight channel with immense power. From the brute force of these waters to the rivulet crossings along the trail to the tiny cascades dropping from the cliffs above, this trail has a wide range of experiences for hikers.

The Clackamas River Narrows
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